Contractor Scammers

Starting a new home improvement project can be as exciting as a new puppy, but with far more decisions to be made in the process. Anyone who has even thought about this has experienced the confusion of trying to find a reputable contractor. With so many options, it can be easy to fall prey to one of the many unfortunate scams that are active today. Read more for National Property Inspections’ tips to stay on solid ground during your renovation.

Project estimates can vary wildly, so even if a contractor comes with a bid that seems reasonable, make sure to get more than one. Some scammers will low-ball prices for services, and for good reason: their services turn out to be little or nothing more than what the homeowner could have achieved themselves with a bit of effort. So if a price seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Another red flag to watch out for is a contractor requesting payment up-front. This is one of this biggest cautionary tales, as some scammers will take money upfront from consumers and perform little to no work that has been requested. A reputable contractor may ask for a small deposit, but most will only demand payment upon satisfied completion of a job. Remember, protect yourself and your wallet.

When hiring any professional to work on the home, ALWAYS make sure to check that their licenses and permits are valid and up to date. A lot of “gypsy” contractors will travel city to city, going door to door looking for work but may not mention that they don’t have the permits or skills to get the job done. If – and when – something goes wrong with the work, it is you, not the contractor, that is left responsible.

The left-over product scam is another to be aware of. This is most used by driveway sealers, who claim that they have just finished a job and have “left-over” product that cannot be stored once mixed and therefore offer services at a discounted rate. Be especially aware of this, because the product they use will usually either be a black paint or some shoddy material that washes off in the next storm. Honest contractors would never knock on your door to sell used materials. 

The final and most common scam out there is the bait and switch. Consumers are drawn in by an often ridiculously low price on a service, which they call the company to schedule, for example, window washing. However, once the technician arrives on the property consumers are informed that their windows are much dirtier than average, and then quote a price that is hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars more than the original.

Those looking to invest in remodeling their home need to be wary of scammers looking to steal every cent they can. Along with references, the Better Business Bureau is always a good place to look when searching for a new contractor. Remember to always have a signed contract with clear expectations as to price and completion dates, and if there are ever any issues, National Property Inspections is always here to help.

Chimney Maintenance

Like any home appliance, chimneys need their share of maintenance. Inspecting and cleaning your chimney annually is essential to fire prevention, as well as your ventilation system. This can include the chimney itself, the flue liners that keep it protected, as well as the vents that encompass the entire home. Vents, like chimney flues, are used to transfer exhaust from appliances and some furnaces to ensure your family’s safety from day to day. In high efficiency furnaces, vents may be plastic as well as metal.

Inside a chimney, the conditions are bleak. Burning wood creates creosote, an oily black substance that coats the lining of your flue, which over time can become thick enough to ignite. If this happens, and the resulting creosote fire is intense enough, it can crack the liner of the chimney itself, risking weakening it and surrounding flammable materials which can include wood framing. If this happens, a comforting evening by the hearth can turn into a full-blown house fire, which is why it is so essential to have your National Property Inspections team member visit annually for prevention. The Chimney Safety Institute recommends a cleaning once the creosote gets to ¼ inch or thicker, so if you live with the fire burning, be wary of your creosotes. However, once your chimney sweep has finished, feel free to use the leftover creosote residue in flowerbeds. It is a great source of calcium and other nutrients!

During cleaning, your chimneysweep should check the damper to ensure correct positioning, as this helps with energy efficiency. Along with the flue itself, the damper ledge must always be cleaned, while the outside should be checked for obstructions as well as normal wear and tear. A chimney cap, which serves an important function, should be in place if it is not already, because it keeps animals, rainwater, leaves and debris out, while keeping the flames held in. If you decide a wood fire is best for you, remember never to burn green wood, but to make sure it is seasoned enough to crackle.

Between inspections, it is always good to keep an eye out for rust, discoloration, or cracking, especially the areas around joints. To prevent damage should there ever be a fire, always be sure to install smoke detectors in every level of the home to properly detect and alert everyone to the hazard. It goes without saying, never forget to check the smoke detectors each month for functionality.

Prepare for Cold Weather: Caulk, Seal and Weather-strip

Winter House_shutterstock_128124284As you prepare your home for the cold weather, you’ll want to be sure to eliminate drafts, which can cause cold spots in your home and waste energy. Caulking, sealing and weather-stripping windows and doors is the way to stop drafts in their tracks.

In addition to saving money and eliminated cold spots near doors and windows, sealing drafts can help prevent unwanted visitors like rodents from entering your home.

Regardless of the season, sealing cracks around doors and windows offers a number benefits and is wise for any home owner:

  • Saves money by preventing cold air from entering your house in the winter or hot air entering in the summer.
  • Eliminates easy entry points for insects such as ants, roaches, spiders, flies and crickets.
  • Requires no special skills to apply caulk, sealant or weather-stripping.
  • Offers an inexpensive solution. You can purchase any type of weather stripping, caulk or sealer from your local hardware store, and it will be worth the investment.
  • Provides an accent to the paint around the trim of the doors and windows inside your home and can be appealing to the eye. A paint job or stain can look unfinished and appear to have unattractive gaps or spacing without proper caulk or sealant.
  • Prevents rain and snow from entering your house. If the existing doors or windows in your home are wood, then weather stripping prevents water from damaging the wood.
  • Dampens some of the outdoor noise levels (animals, mowers, children, vehicles).
Tagged: , , , , , , ,

Ask the Inspector: Winterizing Outdoor Faucets

By Lawrence Englehart, GPI Franchise Owner, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Water PipesQ. My neighbor just had a basement leak caused by her outside tap freezing, which busted a pipe. I’m concerned this might happen to us. Is there a proper way to winterize our outside water faucets?

A. This is a really good question, but the answer may depend on the age of the home or the type of exterior faucet in use. In older homes, the exterior faucet is a simple compression faucet that has a type of in-line shutoff valve inside the home, which should also have a small brass drain cap located on the side of the valve. As well, the copper pipes for this older configuration should slope toward the exterior faucet.

The proper procedure to winterize this older exterior faucet is to first shut off the inside valve by turning the handle clockwise, then proceed to the exterior faucet and open the faucet by turning that handle counter-clockwise. The homeowner should then proceed back to the inside shut-off valve and open up the small brass bleeder drain cap, which would then allow all of the water to drain out of that section of copper pipe. The reason the water needs to be drained out of the exterior faucet is the risk that any water left inside the exterior faucet may cause damage to the water pipe if the temperature outside were to go below the point that water freezes.

The newer type of exterior faucet is called a frost-proof faucet, or freeze-proof faucet. As the name implies, these are designed to minimize the risk of water freezing inside the unit and possibly rupturing the water pipe. However, just like the older configuration, these units need to be installed with the pipe sloping toward the exterior of the home. This unit is also a type of compression faucet, but the physical shut-off valve is actually up to 12 inches away from the exterior tap and located inside an insulated wall or rim joist area.

If you’re not sure if your exterior faucet is an older style or a frost-proof type, the general rule of thumb is that the handle for the frost-proof faucets tend to be perpendicular to the home.

Unfortunately, although most home owners may be familiar with this quick overview of a winterizing process, some may not understand that the garden hose must be disconnected before winter or there is a very real risk that the garden hose would keep water inside the faucet, which could potentially freeze and possibly rupture the water pipe.

Tagged: , , , , , ,

Fall Home Maintenance Checklist

Autumn House_shutterstock_116166403Autumn is upon us, and there are many things you should be doing around the house to prepare for the cooler weather of winter. Here’s a handy checklist:

  • After leaves have fallen, clean the gutters to keep water flowing away from the house.
  • Remove garden hoses from outdoor faucets/bibs, drain and store hoses, and shut off the water.
  • Check caulking anywhere two different materials meet. Specifically, check wood siding joining the foundation wall and where window or door trim meets the siding.
  • Check for broken or cracked glass and damaged screens or storm windows.
  • Insulate pipes in crawl spaces and attics.
  • Have the chimney flue inspected and cleaned by a certified chimney sweep. Also, inspect the damper.
  • Remove bird nests from chimney flues and outdoor electrical fixtures.
  • Run all gas-powered lawn equipment until the fuel is gone.
  • Clean, repair and store outdoor furniture.
  • Trim tree branches that hang over the roof or gutters.
  • Mulch around bulbs, shrubs and trees to prevent drastic soil temperature change from destroying plant root systems.
  • Check the reversing/safety mechanism on garage door operators.
  • Inspect the roof for missing or damaged shingles and repair.
  • If you have a pool, check the pool cover for damage and repair or replace if necessary.
  • Make sure the seal between your garage door and the ground is tight. Add a layer of weather stripping if necessary.
  • Have your heating system inspected and cleaned by a certified professional, and remember to change your furnace filters regularly.
  • Change the direction of ceiling fans to create an upward draft that redistributes warm air from the ceiling.
  • Test and change the batteries in all smoke detectors.
  • Empty all soil from outdoor pots and planters.
Tagged: , , ,

Winterizing Your House or Cabin

wàNow that the cooler weather is here, you’re probably not going to visit that cabin up north, and you may be leaving your home in a colder climate for a destination in a warmer one. That means preparing your cabin or house for cold weather between Oct. 30 and April 15. Here’s a handy checklist:

  • Remove all food to prevent pests and rodents from invading your cabin or home.
  • Remove all bottles, cans, etc., that could burst if they freeze.
  • Unplug ALL appliances. Don’t forget the microwave, stereo and televisions. If you unplug the fridge, make sure to completely empty the fridge and freezer, and wedge them open.
  • Insulate pipes in your home’s crawl space and attic and insulate around outdoor water pipes and faucets that you use for irrigation.
  • Seal air leaks that allow cold air into your garage and house where pipes may be located, especially around electrical wiring, dryer vents and pipes.
  • Shut off the water main and thoroughly drain water out of pipes. Use an air compressor to blow excess water from the pipes. Close the tub and sink drains.
  • To prevent the water in the toilet trap from evaporating and allowing sewer gasses to enter the house, lift the toilet seats and cover all toilet bowls with plastic cling wrap.
  • Disconnect garden hoses and empty pipes leading to outside faucets.
  • Shut off the electricity or pilot light on the water heater and drain the water heater into a floor drain.
  • Turn off the pilot lights and gas on stoves and fireplaces.
  • Keep the heat on at a low setting — 55 to 60 degrees — to prevent pipes from cracking and leaking.
  • Give the house or cabin a good cleaning to deter pests and rodents.
  • Dispose of all flammable items, such as oily rags.
  • Close flues and dampers.
  • Store all outdoor furniture in a shed or garage.
  • Make sure all points of entry are locked up tight, and don’t leave any valuables in the home.
  • Arrange for a neighbor or a home watch service to check on the home regularly.
Tagged: , , , , ,

Keeping Your Chimney Clean

Chimney_shutterstock_126328937Chimneys need to be kept clean to prevent chimney fires, but how often they need to be cleaned is a tricky question. The National Fire Protection Association Standard 211 says, “Chimneys, fireplaces, and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits, and correct clearances. Cleaning, maintenance, and repairs shall be done if necessary.”

In wood-burning fireplaces, creosote can build up and cause chimney fires. But even if you have a gas fireplace or don’t use your fireplace very often, you should have the chimney inspected and cleaned about once a year, as animals can get into the chimney and build nests, or leaves, sticks and twigs from nearby trees can become trapped in the chimney and cause chimney fires.

You could try to remove creosote and clean your chimney yourself, but for a thorough, professional job, you’ll need to call a chimney sweep. The cost is around $150 to $200, and you should make sure that the chimney professional does a thorough job. Ask for a Level 1 inspection; if the chimney sweep doesn’t know what that is, move on to another company. If you live in Canada, be sure that your chimney sweep professional is certified by Wood Energy Technology Transfer, Inc. (WETT).

For more information about chimney cleaning, visit the Chimney Safety Institute of America’s website. In Canada, visit the Wood Energy Technology Transfer, Inc., website.

Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

Is Your Home Ready for Fall?

Autumn House_shutterstock_115567654Autumn is upon us, and there are many things you should be doing around the house to prepare for the cooler weather of winter. Here’s our handy checklist:

  • After leaves have fallen, clean the gutters to keep water flowing away from the house.
  • Remove garden hoses from outdoor faucets/bibs, drain and store hoses, and shut off the water.
  • Check caulking anywhere two different materials meet. Specifically, check wood siding joining the foundation wall and where window or door trim meets the siding.
  • Check for broken or cracked glass and damaged screens or storm windows.
  • Insulate pipes in crawl spaces and attics.
  • Have the chimney flue inspected and cleaned by a certified chimney sweep. Also, inspect the damper.
  • Remove bird nests from chimney flues and outdoor electrical fixtures.
  • Run all gas-powered lawn equipment until the fuel is gone.
  • Clean, repair and store outdoor furniture.
  • Trim tree branches that hang over the roof or gutters.
  • Mulch around bulbs, shrubs and trees to prevent drastic soil temperature change from destroying plant root systems.
  • Check the reversing/safety mechanism on garage door operators.
  • Inspect the roof for missing or damaged shingles and repair.
  • If you have a pool, check the pool cover for damage and repair or replace if necessary.
  • Make sure the seal between your garage door and the ground is tight. Add a layer of weather stripping if necessary.
  • Have your heating system inspected and cleaned by a certified professional, and remember to change your furnace filters regularly.
  • Change the direction of ceiling fans to create an upward draft that redistributes warm air from the ceiling.
  • Test and change the batteries in all smoke detectors.
  • Empty all soil from outdoor pots and planters.
Tagged: , , , , ,